Pardon My French's
By Brett McKenzie on Aug 09, 2019
The inside scoop on Fitzco's mustard-flavored ice cream
One of the things I’m known for here at The One Club for Creativity is my love for ice cream — not just eating it, mind you, but also making it. I’m forever experimenting with what often ends up being very unique and interesting flavors. How about a summery gazpacho ice cream to cleanse the palate? Or maybe a sweet-meets-salty melon and prosciutto creation? A boozy Manhattan with a vermouth and bitters ribbon? A cannoli gelato where I’ve made the ricotta and candied citrus by hand? I go where my imagination takes me, and it’s usually to a good place.
But I've never even conceived of a mustard ice cream.
So when my friends started tagging me on social media posts about popular mustard brand French’s releasing a bright yellow dessert, distributed via ice cream trucks here on the streets of New York, I knew I had to give it a try. By happy coincidence I learned that this frozen experience was crafted by Atlanta-based Fitzco — one of The One Club’s Corporate Members — so I reached out to them to learn more about the campaign. And so, here’s Creative Director Hannah Oates Williams and VP, Strategy Director Vaughn Allen giving me… ahem… the inside scoop.
First of all... WTF?! Mustard ice cream? How did this project come into being?
Vaughn: We’re blessed with a brave client who expects us to push them. The challenge with selling mustard — or much anything in the grocery store these days — is getting people to choose a brand instead of shopping on autopilot and grabbing private label out of habit. With French’s and our “Not from France” campaign, we do that by putting our brand out there in familiar yet surprising ways that mirror the familiar yet surprising nature of French’s mustard. We suggested a brief where we tackle that challenge head-on exclusively in unpaid media.
OK, the stage is set, and some sort of brief comes through. How many ideas went through your heads before the ice cream lightbulb went off?
Hannah: Oh, we had a ton of other ideas before we landed on Mustard Ice Cream. Anything from a Not From France fashion show during Paris Fashion Week- where models are just normal Americans eating corndogs; to Frankenfood creations, like mustard, ketchup and hot dog-flavored popsicles. But in the end, we wanted something simple and unexpected that people would want to eat — or at least want to try — with the mustard as the hero. We knew that mustard is usually served on grilled foods, like hamburgers and hot dogs. So we decided to take French’s to a summertime American classic it’s never seen before. We knew once someone in the office saw a comp on our computer and said, "wait, what??!! Mustard ice cream?!" that it was the right idea to get people talking about French’s again.
What was it like to sell this through to the office and then to the client?
Vaughn: Actually selling the idea was not unlike the experience of mustard ice cream itself. Everyone at first was like, “wait, what?” and then they’re suddenly curious to know what it would actually taste like. And that’s it. That’s when they realize there’s something to the idea.
In general, I think that kind of response is a good sign. If an idea seems like a no-brainer right off the bat, usually it’s either been done before or it’s just too expected to take off on its own.
"...selling the idea was not unlike the experience of mustard ice cream itself. Everyone at first was like, “wait, what?” and then they’re suddenly curious to know what it would actually taste like... That’s when they realize there’s something to the idea."
Hannah: The clients were totally open to doing something unexpected that gets people talking. We were able to work with McCormick’s head chef to create a working recipe and serve it at one of their brand meetings. And I think as soon as everyone tasted it for themselves, they were on board and super excited. After all, if it created that much chatter inside their own walls, it would definitely get people talking outside of them.
How did you go about making the actual ice cream a reality, from the test kitchen to the public?
Hannah: Because we sold the idea with a McCormick recipe as a starting place we knew something surprisingly tasty was possible. When we first spoke to the ice cream mavens at CoolHaus, we knew they were the right partner for this project. They had a truck in New York and a scoop shop in Los Angeles, they knew how to get us on the map with both coasts, and co-founder and CEO Natasha Case was totally down with the idea of being Not From France. The thought of trying something totally different and unexpected with ice cream was exciting to her, and she immediately came up with the idea of serving the ice cream with a pretzel cookie, instead of our original thought of sea-salted pretzel cone.
Once we officially teamed up with CoolHaus, they nailed the final recipe within one week. There really wasn’t a lot of back and forth. They know ice cream and we know mustard, so it was kind of a perfect match.
So you had the ice cream, now you had to get it to the public. How did you prepare for that stage of the project?
Hannah: Thankfully CoolHaus already had an ice cream truck, as well as templates for wrapping it, so all we had to do was design the hell out of it. Design was a huge part of this project as a whole. Working with our designers here at Fitzco to create all the packaging, the truck, and the press mailers was my favorite part of the process. They killed it and created something perfect for French’s Classic Yellow Mustard meets CoolHaus Ice Cream.
Speaking of press mailers, this was one of the few times that I saw the mainstream buzz before I saw ad industry buzz. How did you work the PR front?
Hannah: We knew that if we wanted to get consumers talking outside our industry bubble, we needed to talk to people, not ourselves. We set aside some of our budget to hire Sunshine Sachs as our PR partners. They helped us set out a plan and we got to work. We designed and created special coolers to deliver ice cream pints to press VIPs ahead of National Mustard Day. The coolers had everything, from the ice cream pints to a custom-designed musical card that explained: “Why French’s Mustard Ice Cream.” Andrey Ter-Grigorian, one of our Fitzco creatives, lent his musical talents to score All-American songs to sound like ice cream truck tunes. We wanted to bring the vibe of an ice cream truck into their press offices and get people excited about this new flavor, so we went all out with the launch and release of the flavor to press.
Vaughn: One of the great aspects of working exclusively in unpaid media is the focus. Every decision you make has to weave tightly with all the others into a tight story that holds together as it blows up. We knew what we wanted the story to be from the beginning, we knew we had to keep that vision pure as we built it out, and we knew even if we did all that that it was always going to be kind of a long shot. But Sunshine Sachs are tops, man. They know how these stories propagate and expand across media to get to real live humans. So you do all that and then you cross your fingers.
So the big day finally arrived, and you came here to the Big Apple to hand out the ice cream. For those bold enough to try it, what was the feedback?
Hannah: The three days in New York for National Mustard Day were insane. Press started picking up and word-of-mouth spread. We had lines of people at the truck wanting to try the ice cream for themselves. And surprisingly, most people loved it, or at least hated themselves for liking it. I’d say after giving out close to 3,000 scoops, only a handful of people weren’t into it.
It’s crazy how French’s Mustard Ice Cream sounds terrible and weird to a lot of people, but once they try it for themselves they’re surprised it’s pretty good.
"We had lines of people at the truck wanting to try the ice cream for themselves. And surprisingly, most people loved it, or at least hated themselves for liking it."
I know you just wrapped this up, but what are the early results looking like?
Vaughn: It’s too early to have campaign results that are more substantial than media impressions, but the campaign has wildly exceeded our expectations on that front. One thing that’s been kind of fun and anecdotally substantiating in these early days is that in that first 24 hours, half of us had overheard either literal strangers or people who didn’t know we worked on it talking about it unprompted. I was actually on vacation in South Carolina and I heard it there. That stuff becomes really interesting when you didn’t pay for media. The real proof, of course, will come when we get a chance to properly analyze the impact that all this French’s mustard conversation ultimately has in store. I’m optimistic.
But yeah, we’re all pretty fired up. This job is best when you get to feel like you got away with something, and had fun doing it. French’s and Fitzco — both our organizations are kinda buzzing with that feeling right now.
All in all, what lessons did you learn from this? What are some takeaways that you can share that other creatives might find useful?
Hannah: We learned that to really get your brand talked about, you gotta figure out a way to get your idea in front of the right people. And then the conversation spreads from there.
We focused 80% of our creative time designing and creating press mailers. Instead of paying someone else to do it, or focusing on video content, we focused on how to bring the flavor to life for press first, then the consumer. Which all feels pretty insane but it totally paid off.
We also learned that to sell something up the client chain like this, it helps so much to have it already made. You don’t naturally think of this as a prototyping type project, but it was, and it had to be.
Finally… tell the truth, what did you really think of this flavor?
Hannah: I think it’s surprisingly pretty good. I wouldn’t claim it as my favorite ice cream flavor, but I would get it on occasion, especially with a salted pretzel topping.
Vaughn: I really liked it. It’s fun to experience a familiar flavor in a different, even weird way. It wouldn’t be my everyday flavor, but I’d definitely order it again. I mean, what’s the point of going to the ice cream store if you get the same flavor every time?
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